Articles

Jeremy Corbyn & the sound of the crowd

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2017 by kmflett

Lord Palmerston

If you frequent social media you’ll have seen clips of Jeremy Corbyn addressing a large crowd at a Libertines gig at Tranmere FC on Saturday. He was not there to sing his version of Forever Young but to make a brief Election speech. The reaction of the crowd seemed to be positive.

The usual cynics have noted that Michael Foot addressed a crowd of 100,000 at the Durham Miners Gala in 1982 and still resoundingly lost the 1983 General Election. Up to a point Lord Copper. A labour movement crowd is not the same, either in terms of political composition or age as those attending a rock concert.

The reception Corbyn got does suggest he is genuinely popular. But the cynics have a point.

Being popular and winning an Election are not the same thing.

In the nineteenth century before universal suffrage and indeed the secret ballot winning the popular vote and winning the Election were two distinct things.

For example at Tiverton in 1847 the Chartist George Julian Harney stood against the Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston in a two member seat. Harney had serious criticisms of Palmerston’s imperial foreign policy.

On the day that nominations were called for, a large crowd gathered and Harney and Palmerston made speeches, apparently lasting 7 hours. This was politics as an entertainment before the TV age. At the end Harney won the popular vote on a show of hands and withdrew.

On a restricted franchise- just 275 votes were cast the following day- he had no chance of winning.

These days of course the unenfranchised crowd of 1847 has the right to vote- not least thanks to the efforts of Harney and his successors- if they are registered. According to the BBC around 2 million people have done so in recent weeks.

The reception of Corbyn at the Libertines gig may be more important than the cynics think.

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